The “Fifty Shades” Phenomenon: A Reader’s Diary, Part One

Okay, it’s official:  E.L. James’ Fifty Shades trilogy is now the Biggest Thing on the Planet, an overhyped juggernaut that inspires fawning love in its fans, eye-rolling contempt in its detractors and intense online debate from everybody as to who should portray its lead characters in the inevitable movie version.  Heck,  American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis has even made it known that he’d like to write the screenplay.  I had been sitting this bit of pop culture out, as I had been having rather an eventful summer on my own, and anyway, I was immersed in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, which isn’t exactly light reading material– A Storm of Swords, even in paperback, weighs nearly two pounds– but then I reached a sticking point in that particular volume.  I’m not going to spoilerize it for those of you who only follow Martin’s epic through its television incarnation, Game of Thrones, but suffice it to say that so many characters I cared about kicked the bucket in one fell swoop that I threw the book against a wall.  (It’s in good company;  as I have previously posted, I have thrown many books against walls.)  I have every intention of finishing it, as well as the books that follow it, but right now I feel like I’m sort of in a mourning state, and I felt like this might be a perfect opportunity to mix it up with a bit of literary fluff, to cheer myself up, as it were.

First off, I had both little expectation and high hopes for this first book on the series, Fifty Shades of Grey.  I didn’t expect much, because I had already read of this book’s humble beginnings.  It started its life as a piece of Twilight fanfiction.  I’m not bashing Twilight nor am I bashing fanfiction.  I have gleefully partaken of both, and even produced some of the latter (specifically a Buffy/Twilight badfic matched in its intentional awfulness only by its brevity, and a lengthy Yu-Gi-Oh Azureshipping fic that I never bothered to post because it seems that most writers in that fic community hate my One True Pairing).  However, I did wander in with plenty of hope, at least for entertainment purposes– this book is very buzzy, mainly due to its subject matter, which is basically S&M erotica, and the effect it appears to have on its legions of readers.  I was interested in finding out what sort of book instigates the kind of rabid following this one has.

So, I’ve started reading the first book.  I’m roughly halfway in after a single day’s reading, and it’s a quick read.  I’ve met our participants, Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, she an innocent young thing fresh out of college, which she somehow maintained her virginity while attending, and he a mysterious, drop-dead-gorgeous billionaire tycoon who isn’t even thirty yet.  I’ve been introduced to Mr. Grey’s slightly offbeat sexual interests– are they really that unusual, or is it just unusual that he has the means to indulge them with an entire “playroom” in his house?– and his first couple of sexual encounters with Ana, his taking of her virginity and a later instance involving a bathtub and Ana’s apparent talent for underwater fellatio.  I’ve heard some arguments online about whether something that happens during the virginity sequence is even possible, namely that Christian brings Ana to orgasm solely through breast stimulation.  (Fluffy is here to tell you that this is an Actual Thing, but its probability is limited by the skill, interest and attentiveness of one’s partner.  This is probably an overshare, but whatever.)  So far, nothing too unusual, except for the sheer mind-boggling amount of bondage equipment Christian Grey keeps in what Ana calls “the Red Room of Pain,”  which evokes a mental picture of the titular sex fiend’s “castle” in the old Prince song “Darling Nikki.”   They haven’t gotten around to using it yet, so the jury is still out.

Mainly, I’ve stayed away from these books because I’m worried that really they’re just the typical sappy, bodice-busting romance novels masquerading as something innovative.  So far, this is holding true.  I’ve read far, far more eye-popping passages in, say, Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty trilogy.  Of course, I’m just starting out, so we shall see.  I’ll break down my take on the book further when I’ve finished it.




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